Fruit muffins are moist, tender, and buttery with lots of fresh fruit (or frozen) inside to balance out the sweetness of the muffin and they often come with streusel on top. Here’s everything you need to know so that you can make the best fruit muffins. They’re easy to bake once you master the recipe and techniques involved.
The ingredients to make muffins
It’s hard to distinguish between a muffin and a cake, especially if you look at the baking ingredients that both categories of recipes call for. They are almost indistinguishable when you break down the components. Here are the basic ingredients you may use to bake muffins and some common baking substitutions you might come across.
The basic muffin is made with the same dry ingredients: flour, chemical leavening agents, salt, as well as spices to add flavour.
The flour is usually all-purpose flour, but some may use part all-purpose and part whole wheat to make muffins a little more “healthy.”
You can also incorporate whole grain cereals in muffin batters, like All Bran cereal to up the fibre content of muffins, again under the guise of making them healthier. I’m not here to debate on whether muffins can be considered healthy or not, though I do love date bran muffins.
Adding wheat bran to muffins is another great way to up the fibre content in your baked goods, like in these blueberry bran muffins.
Eggs and milk
Muffins are always made with eggs or egg substitutes, which could be a fruit purée like mashed banana as we saw in this eggless banana bread recipe. Another alternative to eggs would be chia eggs or flax eggs, made from ground chia or flax seeds mixed with some water and left to gel until it has a texture just like egg whites.
Muffins are also made with dairy milk or non-dairy milk, buttermilk, yogurt, sour cream, or even crème fraîche. Personally, I prefer to bake with acidic dairy ingredients, especially sour cream. I find these lead to a more moist, tender muffin because acids reduce gluten formation that may occur when you mix the batter.
The fat in muffin recipes is there to tenderize them, to create a better, softer mouthfeel. A lot of muffins are made with liquid fats, like vegetable oil, canola oil, mild olive oil, etc. Most of these don’t impart much flavour.
Liquid oils are especially good at giving you the impression that baked goods made with oil are more moist. That happens for two reasons:
- oil is 100 % fat, which means if you replace butter with the same volume of oil, you are adding more fat
- fats inhibit gluten development and so, the less gluten, the more tender the baked good (this point applies to both oil and butter)
The beauty of baking with most oils is that they can be whisked easily with the other wet ingredients (egg and milk or acidic dairy). I think this is the number 1 reason that muffins are often made with liquid fats.
On the other hand, if you bake your muffins with melted butter as your fat of choice, you’ll notice melted butter will seize or harden when you incorporate it with the other liquids: usually this is because of temperature difference between the cold liquid ingredients and the melted butter.
Butter adds so much flavour to baked goods, and for this reason, I choose to make my muffins with butter. But the drawback is butter is solid and fairly firm at room temperature, which can lead to muffins seeming dry when they are made with butter.
Sugar is technically considered a wet ingredient because it’s hygroscopic, meaning sugar makes baked goods more moist by trapping water. However, when you are making muffins, certain mixing techniques have you incorporate the sugar with the dry ingredients, so it’s hard to categorize it for this reason.
The sugar used in muffin recipes can be granulated sugar, cane sugar, or brown sugar. These may get mixed with the dry ingredients and thus would be categorized as a dry ingredient.
You may use a combination of granulated sugar and a liquid sugar, like honey or maple syrup. In this case, the granulated sugar would get treated like the other dry ingredients, and you would mix the liquid sugar with the other wet ingredients. So depending on the sugar you are baking with, it can fall under a wet ingredient or a dry ingredient.
Regardless of the type of fruit you’re using to make your fruit muffins, it’s important to toss them in a little flour to give them a fine coating. The flour plays two roles:
- the flour coating helps anchor the fruit in the batter: the flour will absorb some liquid from the surrounding batter, thus locking the fruit pieces in place and preventing the fruit from sinking to the bottom of the muffin. Note with gluten-free baked goods, this technique might not help, as I noticed with this gluten-free raspberry cake.
- the flour can absorb some of the fruit juices the pieces release as they heat up, which prevent the muffin crumb from becoming too wet
Using frozen fruit
Using frozen fruit is not only convenient, it means that you can make any type of fruit muffin, regardless of what’s in season. But there’s another bonus to baking with frozen fruit: you don’t have to defrost frozen fruit to incorporate it in your next batch of muffins.
Folding frozen fruit into batters like a fruit muffin batter ensures you don’t crush the fruit, especially if it’s delicate. This is especially important when baking with delicate berries, like blueberries and raspberries that will turn to smush when pressed and introduce excess liquid into the batter, leading to gummy patches.
I’ve successfully used frozen fruit in these honey blueberry muffins. In fact, if you let the blueberries defrost, you can end up dying the batter blue and the blueberries turn the muffins green as the muffins bake!
I’ve used frozen rhubarb in these rhubarb muffins with sour cream and that worked out beautifully.
Using fresh fruit
You can add chopped fresh fruit to your muffins, like chopped plums in these plum cardamom coffee cake muffins. These strawberry rhubarb muffins with streusel topping are made with chopped fresh strawberries and chopped fresh rhubarb.
Fresh local berries are perfect for baking muffins, like red currants in these simple red currant muffins.
You can add cranberries to muffin batters, either fresh or frozen, but I’ve also baked muffins with poached cranberries like these cranberry gingerbread muffins.
The muffin recipe ratio
Muffins are made from the same basic ingredients, just like other baked goods, but what makes a baked good a muffin lies in the ratio or the proportions of the ingredients relative to each other. You could take flour, sugar, butter, eggs, and milk or sour cream to make a vanilla cake with milk chocolate frosting, or you could use those same ingredients to make muffins. The thing that sets them apart is the ratio of ingredients or the proportions you use.
For most of my fruit muffin recipes, I try to use the following ratio or proportions:
- 250 grams (2 cups) of all-purpose flour, or a mix of all-purpose flour with a little ground almond that adds up to this total amount. You could also considering working with a mix of whole wheat and all-purpose flour
- 2 large eggs
- 200 grams (1 cup) of sugar—sometimes I use a little less, and other times, I may substitute a portion of sugar for a liquid sugar, like honey
- 115 grams (1/2 cup) of butter or 80 mL (1/3 cup) of oil because oil is 100 % fat and butter is only 80 % fat (approximately)
- 80 mL (1/3 cup) to 190 mL (3/4 cup) of a liquid or wet ingredient, either milk, sour cream, or buttermilk—I’ve found sometimes less liquid will result in a thicker batter that leads to muffins with a bigger dome and better rise
- baking powder is the chemical leavener I add to muffin recipes, up to 10 mL (2 teaspoons). Remember that with muffins, you may be looking for the final baked good to be a little more dense than a layer cake, for example, so you can use less leavening agent to achieve this. If there is an acidic ingredient in the recipe, I also add baking soda to help neutralize the acid so that the baking powder can do its job
- up to 250 grams of fruit—Remember too much fruit can lead to wet muffins that are hard to eat, that may collapse when they cool, and that lack structure and fall apart.
With these proportions in mind, you can bake virtually any fruit muffin and get really creative with your recipes! You could also replace the fruit with chocolate chips to make chocolate chip muffins. Just saying!
Special tools to make muffins
I’ve been mixing batters for muffins by hand, but still there are a few tools that will make your life easier when it comes time to bake a batch of muffins:
- Muffin pans: for regular muffins, you can’t get away without a muffin pan. And if you can, please invest in two 6-cup muffin pans (like this Wilton pan on Amazon) or one bigger 12-cup muffin pan (like these Wilton pans on Amazon). This way you will be ready to make full batches of most recipes, which can yield anywhere from 8 to 12 muffins, depending on how much batter you scoop per cup.
- Paper liners, parchment liners, silicone liners: we can debate over which is better for muffins, but personally, I like disposable paper liners (like these on Amazon that you would use for cupcakes too). For lower fat muffins or muffins with less sugar, these can stick to paper liners. In this case, use parchment liners (Amazon) or silicone liners (Amazon). Savoury muffins, for example, work best baked in either of these.
- Large cookie scoops: Some call them “dishers” and they are these are the most reliable scoops I’ve found on Amazon. They can handle firm doughs without breaking because the release mechanism is separate from the handle! This gives you a better, firm grip on the handle, without the risk of breaking the leaver. The handles are different colours according to the size.
- Cake tester and/or instant-read thermometer: if you bake a lot, you can probably gently poke muffins with your fingertip and instinctively know when they are done baking. The rest of us have to use a cake tester or thermometer to check if muffins are done baking.
The mixing methods to make muffins
While muffins and cakes seem to have the same basic ingredients, what sets them apart in many cases is the mixing method used. Most muffins are made with the muffin mixing method, though not all muffins use this technique. Some use the creaming method like cakes. Let’s go over the difference between the mixing methods you can use to make muffins.
The muffin method
The muffin method is the easiest method to make a muffin. Usually the fat used is oil, like canola oil, not butter. If butter is used, it’s melted and cooled.
The dry ingredients are all combined in one bowl, and the wet ingredients (including the oil) are whisked together in a separate boil. Then the two bowls are combined into one. This is the reason the muffin method is sometimes referred to as the two bowl method. Plus since this method is also used for quick breads, the two bowl method makes it more clear that this method is not just for muffins. This eggless banana bread is made with the two bowl method.
With the muffin method, you want to make sure you don’t over-stir the muffin batter when you combine the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients. You don’t want to work the batter so much that gluten develops, which will lead to a tough muffin, that also has a dry mouthfeel.
You want to stir muffin batter just until the ingredients are combined. This is why it’s so important to first mix all the dry ingredients really well and to also whisk together all the wet ingredients so that the mixture is very even BEFORE you combine the two. This will mean less mixing when dry and wet come into contact!
With the muffin mixing method, you aren’t mechanically adding any air as you mix the batter. Your recipe will probably call for a lot of one or more leavening agents than other baked goods to release carbon dioxide into the batter and help your muffins rise and become light and fluffy.
Muffin recipes will usually call for baking powder, but you’ll also add baking soda if your baking with an acidic ingredient like buttermilk. In fact, you’ll add both if you are adding a lot of acidic elements in your recipe.
The creaming method
The creaming method takes a little more time and effort, but it can be worth it. For the creaming method, your recipe will call for softened or room temperature butter and the first step of mixing involves “creaming” or beating together the butter and the sugars. This step is crucial for incorporating air into the batter.
The eggs are added one at a time, and then the dry ingredients are added last. If there are additional liquids, you may either add them before the dry ingredients, or alternately with the wet.
Because the creaming method mechanically incorporates air into the batter, these recipes may call for slightly less chemical leaveners. And as with the muffin method, whether the recipe calls for baking powder or baking soda is entirely dependent on whether your recipe has any acidic elements that need to be balanced out with baking soda. If so, you’ll use both leaveners in most cases.
The reverse creaming method
I have started modifying my muffin recipes, specifically to change the mixing method from the creaming method to the reverse creaming method. Why? Because I want to make muffins with butter, and I find incorporating butter into a muffin recipe can be a little tricky. Muffins are traditionally made using the muffin mixing method, with two bowls, one for wet ingredients and one for dry. But if you want to add melted butter, the melted butter would typically be mixed with the wet ingredients, as you would incorporate oil. Butter mixed with the cold wet ingredients tends to cause the butter to solidify, which can mean it doesn’t get evenly mixed into the batter in the end.
In the reverse creaming method, you start with all the dry ingredients in one bowl and all the wet ingredients in the other. The butter is room temperature and mixed with the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Then, like with the two bowl muffin method, you add the wet to the dry and stir to combine.
This method allows you to easily and evenly distribute the butter in the batter, without worrying about it seizing. Plus mixing the dry ingredients with the butter should reduce gluten formation as you mix, which means a more tender muffin.
Streusel is my favourite muffin garnish. To make a streusel topping, you don’t need a recipe, technically, when you know that the ingredients are used in equal parts, so you can make a streusel with 40 grams flour, 40 grams ground almond, 40 grams sugar, 40 grams melted butter. Note that if you are making less muffins, you can halve this recipe. So when I make 8 really big, bakery-style rhubarb streusel muffins, I make half the streusel because there’s less surface area to cover.
Cinnamon sugar is another great topping that I used for these plum cardamom coffee cake muffins. Cinnamon sugar doesn’t give you that crumble topping like streusel does, yet it adds so much flavour to your muffins and you probably have a little jar of cinnamon sugar sitting unused in your cupboards that you can put to good use here.
Some people will glaze muffin tops after baking or drizzle a thin icing on top, similar to the orange blossom icing on these date scones. If you are fan of glazed baked goods, this is something to consider, though it’s not something I do.
Of course, at the end of the day, muffins shouldn’t be complicated and not all muffins have to be garnished:
- these date bran muffins don’t have a garnish and that’s because I like to split them open and smear them with salted butter
- these chocolate zucchini muffins are perfect the way they are. They don’t need a streusel or extra sugar, or even a glaze. You can if you want, but I don’t.
- these gingerbread muffins don’t have a topping, but they are made with poached cranberries that are tucked inside!
I usually store muffins in the pan they were baked in, and I cover tightly with foil, once they’ve completely cooled. Depending on the muffin, some muffins that are lower in sugar or lower in fat are best consumed within 24 hours of baking. Remember both fat and sugar help preserve baked goods, so if you are baking with less of either of these ingredients, expect consequences.
For a muffin like the one below, you can store them for up to 4 days wrapped tightly. Your other option is freezing for longer term storage.
You can absolutely freeze freshly-baked muffins, once they’ve cooled completely. Some will freeze them on a sheet pan, then individually wrap them with layers of foil, but I don’t have time for that. I usually freeze the cooled muffins in a large sealed freezer bag set on a sheet pan. Once frozen solid, I remove the sheet pan from the freezer, and leave the muffins sealed in the bag, frozen for up to two months.
To defrost a frozen muffin, you can set it in the fridge overnight to slowly defrost, or you could even defrost on the counter for 30 minutes before enjoying most frozen muffins. You can also heat defrosted muffins in the oven or the toaster oven. For muffins with streusel topping, the streusel will inevitably soften upon storage, especially if you are freezing and defrosting. Reheating them in the oven can help dry out the surface of the muffin that may be a little more moist after freezing and thawing.
They’re tough or dense
Muffins can be a little more dense than a fluffy vanilla cake, but they shouldn’t be *that* dense. If your muffins are dense, look into your leavening agents (baking powder and/or baking soda): are you sure you added them and used the right amount? A little goes a long way, but for some muffins, you may use 5 mL (1 teaspoon) of baking powder per cup of flour. You can successfully use as little as 1.25 mL (1/4 teaspoon) of baking powder as I often do with my many of my fruit muffins.
You should also consider the type of flour you are baking muffins with: perhaps it would be interesting to explore baking with cake flour or try using a mixture of all-purpose plus cornstarch or ground almonds. Both of these will help reduce the gluten protein in your muffin batters, which should lead to a more tender product.
Baked goods may seem dry if you over-worked the batter when incorporating the dry ingredients. You may have developed too much gluten, which would give the muffins a dry mouthfeel.
Muffins may seem dry if they are low in sugar and low in fat. Remember sugar absorbs water and helps you bake muffins that are more moist. Cut the sugar, and you will end up with a dry muffin. The same goes with fat.
And don’t forget that butter can give the impression of a dryer texture because butter is solid at room temperature, unlike oil.
Nobody likes a wet muffin. This could happen because you simply didn’t bake the muffins long enough and so the muffin structure won’t be as set, resulting not only in collapse or shorter muffins, but also a wet mouthfeel or even gummy. Remember that these tips for how to check if your cake is done baking also apply to muffins!
Muffins may end up wet if you incorporate too much fruit into the batter. Remember fruit is mostly water and as the fruit heats up in the oven, the fruit will burst and lose water, moistening the batter. It’s normal to have a little more moisture around the fruit pieces in a fruit muffin, but if your muffin crumb is very damp, next time, bake longer and consider incorporating less fruit.
Frozen fruit release a lot of liquid as they defrost because the freeze/thaw process causes the cells to breakdown, unleashing a ton of water into the muffin. This is something to keep in mind when baking with any frozen fruit.
You might also want to analyze the ratio of ingredients in your recipe: do you have too large a volume of wet ingredients in your recipe? You may want to pull back a little on these to adjust the crumb OR use a little more flour. Sometimes adding an extra 30 grams (1/4 cup) of flour can make a huge difference!
They’re too flat or they don’t have a nice dome
In order to create a nice dome, there are a few tricks:
- start with a thicker muffin batter: a thick batter will rise up and set quickly, while a thinner, more wet batter may expand out as the ingredients heat up in the oven, before the muffins rise up, leading to a flat, spread out appearance
- bake muffins at a higher temperature: bake muffins at 400 ºF or even 425 ºF to give the batter a heat boost, activating the baking powder faster, so that the muffins rise up fast before the crust sets. That heat boost will lead to taller muffins.
- rest batter or even chill it overnight: I tested chilling muffin batter overnight, and this definitely led to a more pronounced dome. Another option is resting the batter on the counter for up to an hour before scooping and baking. This is something Michelle at Hummingbird High recommends with her small batch blueberry muffins that have a truly impressive, bakery style dome!
- scoop more batter per muffin cup: this seems really obvious, but muffins that are less domed are often made with less batter. If you want a bigger muffin, fill the muffin cup more. Be careful though: more muffin batter per cup means the batter may overflow onto the pan rims, and then the batter can stick to the pan if you haven’t greased the edges!
Easy homemade fruit muffins
For the streusel topping
- 40 grams (5 tbsp) all-purpose flour
- 40 grams (7 tbsp) ground almonds
- 40 grams (3 tbsp) granulated sugar
- 40 grams (3 tbsp) unsalted butter
- 1 pinch fine kosher salt
For the muffin batter
- 250 grams (2 cups) all-purpose flour
- 200 grams (½ cup) granulated sugar
- 2.5 mL (½ tsp) baking powder
- 2.5 mL (½ tsp) baking soda
- 2.5 mL (½ tsp) fine kosher salt
- 115 grams (½ cups) unsalted butter room temperature
- 2 large eggs
- 5 mL (1 tsp) pure vanilla extract
- 125 mL (½ cup) sour cream (14% fat) or 80 mL (1/3 cup) of buttermilk
- 180 grams (6 oz) frozen berries or other frozen fruit like frozen pineapple, fresh or frozen rhubarb, etc.
- 8 grams (1 tbsp) all-purpose flour
To make streusel topping
- Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a bowl.
- Melt the butter in the microwave and stir into the dry ingredients with a fork until a crumble forms.
- Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
To make fruit muffins
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
- Add the softened butter and mix it in until the mixture resembles a coarse crumble. Set aside.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla, and sour cream (or buttermilk).
- Add the wet ingredients to the bowl with the dry ingredients and stir just to combine.
- Toss the frozen berries (or frozen fruit) in the extra tablespoon (8 grams) of flour, then fold them in gently with a wooden spoon or spatula.
- For a “regular” muffin top: divide the batter between 10 muffin paper-lined wells of a muffin pan (~70 grams batter per paper), sprinkle with streusel, and bake at 350°F for about 25 minutes. For a “domed” muffin top: divide the batter between 10 muffin paper-lined wells of a muffin pan (~70 grams batter per paper), sprinkle with streusel topping and bake at 425°F for 8 minutes, then drop temperature setting to 350°F for the last 15–17 minutes. For a “puffy” muffin top: refrigerate the batter overnight, then scoop the batter into 10 muffin paper-lined wells of a muffin pan (~70 grams batter per paper), sprinkle with streusel topping, and bake them at 350°F for about 25 minutes.
Janice Lawandi is chemist-turned-baker, working as a recipe developer in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. She studied pastry at Le Cordon Bleu in Ottawa and cooking at l’Académie Culinaire. She has a BSc in Biochemistry from Concordia University and a PhD in Chemistry from McGill University. Visit janicelawandi.com to see my portfolio.